STO and the NGE

That’s possibly as provocative a pairing of abbreviations as I’ve used on this blog-but it’s not quite what some folks might think.

When I put this comparison out there, it’s easy for folks to point and say “Yeah-STO is as bad as the NGE!”  And in one respect, they’re right-but it isn’t a statement I make about the game.  It’s a statement I make about the things that go on outside of it.

In October to December 2005 (and, honestly, probably still ongoing to a certain extent), the SWG forums exploded from sheer rage about the NGE.  You couldn’t go a page on a topic without someone spewing out venom about the NGE, the anger towards SOE/Lucasarts overwhelming any other topics of conversation.  Adding fuel to that flame was the reactions of the moderators of the forum, and the representatives of the company.  First they let them rage, then they came down with an iron fist with bans and locks.  Reps spoke how everyone was going to love the changes, even in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Meanwhile, folks who liked the changes-and they DID exist-insisted that the forums were only a minority of the people in the game; that people as a rule only posted when they had issues, questions, problems.  They said that when all was said and done, SWG would still have its stable population-and possibly more thanks to the NGE.  Devs came out in support as well, claiming to be bleeding subs prior to the NGE, and that it was necessary in order for the game to continue on and thrive.

It was a battle of wills:  SOE/Lucasarts attempting to get the word out that they had a better game, and the players angry with the NGE spreading word of mouth hatred towards SWG.

Time has shown the winner.  SWG still exists-in spite of the beliefs of those who proclaimed that it would die within a year.  But its playerbase took a hit unrivalled in any MMO that I’m aware of, leading eventually to a closure of half of its servers four years later, and an uncertain future when The Old Republic hits the retailers.  In many of the media outlets that cover these games, when they talk about unmitigated disasters, the one that tops the list is almost always SWG-and the NGE.

Surely, there would be a lesson taken from this.  Surely no other company would make so many missteps as to provoke such rage again.

Silly me.

Enter Star Trek Online, designed to bring in fans who are (probably) in the top four most rabid fans in the country.  It was inevitable that many of them would come away disgusted, because the game didn’t match their conception of what they wanted.  And thanks to the experience of the NGE, people knew the best way to damage a game was to rage about it.  And they did.  And Cryptic/Atari let them for a bit, and eventually I noticed the same patterns emerging as with the NGE-from both the forums and from the moderators and developers and marketers.  And as before, the folks in charge of things have made blunders; with the NGE, it was popping out the “Trials of Obi-Wan” expansion a week prior to announcing the NGE-which used as a selling point a special Creature Handler item for a profession that would cease to exist once the NGE was in place.  Here, it’s the announcement of a sale with an free 60 days to new purchasers-and a discount on the game itself.  (And it doesn’t help that the folks on the Champions Online side of things have made their own series of blunders lately.)

So we’ve got battle lines drawn, the forums are aflame, and I’m right back at November 2005.

All the same, this is the only thing the NGE has in common with STO.  Fact is, STO has just been released exactly one month ago-a game that is just beginning to find its player base.  SWG had been around for a couple of years before NGE (and, if you want to extend that, the Combat Upgrade).  It completely redid the game engine, and effectively exterminated a number of people’s characters.  STO has yet to do anything of that magnitude.  (One terrifying prospect is that this outroar will have them considering it.)  I have yet to see anything that has rivalled the NGE in scope of a disaster.

But what I see on the forums is a disturbing reminder that it can happen again.  I believe Cryptic/Atari can do good with this game; I wouldn’t be subscribed if I disliked it as it is now.  I feel that there are things that can be improved; there are things that can be added.  And I believe some of those things will happen.  But Cryptic/Atari isn’t helping their own case by shooting themselves in the foot with boneheaded posts and moves.  At this point, they also need to start moderating their forums a lot more heavily; they’re already in a no-win situation-they can’t really make it much worse with mass bannings and locks now (the same situation SOE was in, no so terribly long ago).

For the record:  when NGE rolled around, I was furious, angry, and disgusted.  I cancelled my subscription, made a farewell post on the Hyperspace Outlaws forum, spent my last day in game taking my character to favorite places on all the planets around, doing something on each of them-and left.  No posts of rage, no posts of sheer vitriol, just a recognition that, while some people may have liked the NGE, I was not one of them.  This time, I’m on the other side of things:  I like STO, even as I recognize that others do not.  I’m not making the mistake of debating the point, though.  I’m not out to change opinions, and I’m not likely to change mine barring something catastrophic.

But if Cryptic/Atari doesn’t get their act together, they’ll doom themselves.

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